First of All, what is Heroin?
Heroin is a drug that goes by different names, like brown sugar, junk, smack, white horse, H, and skag. It is a very addictive drug made from morphine; a mind-altering psychoactive substance made from the opium poppy plant.
The look and color of heroin vary according to how it was made and what it is mixed with. It can be black and sticky, known as the “black tar heroin,” or a white or brown powder. Heroin is classified as an opioid. Other opioids are codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), and oxycodone (Oxycontin).
The reports of heroin users and the number of people dying of heroin overdose have increased heavily over the past decade. This increase is due to the huge number of people who misuse the prescribed opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.
People who get addicted to these drugs due to misuse will sometimes progress to heroin instead. Heroin can give them a similar effect and is also cheaper. This makes it more accessible and easier to find than prescription drugs.
How is Heroin Used?
Heroin is used in many different ways; some users mix it with water and then mix it with a needle injection; it can also be smoked, snorted, or sniffed. Heroin users usually mix the drug with other substances such as cocaine or alcohol, which rapidly increases the risk of an overdose.
How Does Heroin Affect Your Brain?
We have specially designed neurons in our brains known as opioid receptors. Those receptors are located in different areas of the brain, especially the areas connected to the perception of pleasure and pain. These receptors send messages to the body’s central nervous system through a circuit of nerves that regulate the body’s respiratory system and much more.
When heroin gets in your system and enters your brain, it attaches to molecules on neurons called the opioid receptors, and that’s when the short-term effects start to take place. The user will begin to feel a rush of dopamine and endorphins accompanied by clouded thoughts.
The effect of heroin can last for a few hours; during this time, the users will feel very drowsy, and their breathing and heartbeat will slow down. Once the drug starts wearing off, users will experience a wave of depressive feelings that makes them crave more of the same drug to regain the good feeling. Regular use of heroin can result in changes in brain functions, which can cause issues such as:
- Higher tolerance makes the user feel the need to increase their doses to feel the same “high,” The higher the tolerance gets, the more substance the brain needs, which eventually increases the risks of overdosing.
- Drug dependence, which is the continuous need to take the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
- Drug addiction. This is a devastating disease that starts affecting your body, health, and brain functions. People addicted to heroin feel the need to take the drug to feel normal.
Signs of Heroin Use
There is no simple way to tell if a person is addicted to heroin. There might not be any symptoms of an opioid use disorder, especially if this person is determined to hide their use. However, as the person’s use increases, their ability to hide their symptoms decreases. Symptoms and signs of heroin use include:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Weight loss
- Memory problems
- Needle marks (if the drug was injected)
- Nose sores
- Runny nose (if the drug was snorted)
- Higher pain tolerance
- Constricted pupils (smaller pupils)
- Slurred speeches
- Neglecting of hygiene and appearance
- Changes in behavior, aggression, or extreme sudden secrecy
- Reckless and dangerous behavior
- A constant need for money
Physical Signs of Heroin Addiction
The physical signs of using heroin happen quickly right after injecting the substance; heroin users will experience a rush of happiness due to the drug-induced euphoria, usually within a few seconds. Other methods of taking the drug do not work as quickly as the injection, but users still show signs of feeling happy or “high” when the drug reaches their brain. Some of the physical signs of heroin addiction might include:
- Flushed skin
- Mouth dryness
- Suddenly falling asleep
- Slow breathing
- Constricted pupils
- Loss of self-control
Other symptoms of heroin use could include:
- Feeling heavy
- Confused thinking
- Memory loss
Psychological Signs of Heroin Addiction
A heroin-addicted person might be a bit hard to identify at first. But continuous use of the substance over long periods of time can make the addiction problem more noticeable. For instance, people addicted to heroin worry about how they will get their next dose more than anything else.
Other behavior changes that affect users’ lifestyle are the needle injection marks on their arms, making users choose to wear long sleeves even in hot weather to cover up their needle marks.
Users also tend to avoid meeting their friends and families because they worry that their drug problems might be discovered. This also affects their personal relationships and work, as it is common for people with addiction problems to prefer social and personal isolation to gatherings or to go out.
People with drug use problems usually have trouble maintaining proper hygiene and a clean appearance.
Short Term Side Effects of Heroin Addiction
Once the heroin enters the brain, it changes into morphine and quickly attaches to the opioid receptors. Heroin users typically report feeling a happiness rush, a pleasurable sensation. The intensity of that happiness rush depends on how much the user has taken, how long it takes to enter the brain and attach to the opioid receptors.
Besides the rush, heroin users may also experience dry mouth, a warm flushing of the skin, nausea, vomiting, and severe itching. After the immediate effect, the users will feel drowsy for a few hours; they will also feel like their thoughts are clouded. Their heartbeat and breathing will also slow down.
Sometimes, that heartbeat drop and slow breathing could result in comas or even permanent brain damage. As opioids act on so many different places in the nervous system and brain, other effects of opioid use are:
- Depressing the user’s breathing by changing the neurochemical activity in the brain stem, which is the part of the brain that controls the automatic body functions such as heartbeat and breathing.
- Reinforcing drug-taking behavior, which is done by altering activity in the limbic system, is responsible for emotions.
- Blocking the pain messages which are transmitted through the spinal cord from the body.
Long Term Side Effects of Heroin Addiction
The long-term use of heroin can change the physiology and physical structure of the brain, resulting in prolonged dysfunctions of the neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversible.
Studies have shown that the brain’s white matter starts to deteriorate due to heroin use, affecting decision-making abilities, controlling self behavior abilities, and affecting the user’s responses to stressful situations.
Heroin’s long-term use also results in building higher degrees of physical dependence and tolerance. Higher tolerance happens when the user feels that they need to increase the drug dosage to reach the same “high” or rush.
The user’s body also adapts to the drug present in their system. They will start to feel withdrawal symptoms if they take smaller doses.
Heroin Addiction Statistics
The number of heroin addicts is rapidly increasing, mostly due to the misuse of prescribed opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 494,000 people in the US reported using heroin in 2017 (CDC).
And in 2011, statistics show that over 4.2 million Americans above the age of 12 have tried heroin at least once in their life. According to the statistics, this is 1.6% of the population.
Looking to Defeat Addiction?
Serenity Springs Recovery Center is a premier drug rehabilitation treatment facility in Orlando, providing the best possible care for individuals who suffer from addiction.
When a person suffers from substance abuse addiction, it takes much more than just physical well-being to restore balance to their life. Addicts often struggle with emotional and mental health issues that can be addressed through our intensive counseling and support at Serenity Springs Recovery Center. If you are interested in seeking help for yourself or your loved ones on the journey to recovery from addiction, contact us today at 386.423.4540.